...Tonight, we are packing our bags for an early morning bus ride tomorrow to Agra. I figure there are few better ways to start off the New Year than to watch the sunrise on January 1, 2012 over the Taj Mahal. I will try to post daily although internet access may be difficult to find. If you do not hear from me, I wish you all a Safe and Happy New Year. I will be back on Sunday. After helping at the hospital this morning, I went to the slum school alone for the first time. Over my last few visits to the school, I have struggled with how I can best help these precious children. Although the three full-time teachers have good intentions, there is little structure and seemingly limited progress. One teacher teaches the 12-14 year old girls how to sew. The other two teach the 50 students ages five to twelve. However, before today, I had only seen the children re-write and recite the English and Hindi alphabets as well as numbers from 1-100 over and over.

As always, my walk through the slum to the school incited a slew of emotions and reactions, both for me and the locals. Work stops and inquisitive glares come from nearly everywhere. I am now familiar to most of the people and many even know me by name. Children call out "Hi John!" from their homes and little kids swarm me to shake my hand or give me a high five. Men and women stare but then break into smiles at the slightest nod or "Namaste."

As I approached the open door of the school, I could see the excitement on the kids faces building as the word spread that I was coming. As I stepped up into the classroom, the entire class jumped sky-high, saluted, and said "Hello Johnnnn!" To know that just by being present you brighten the day of 50 kids is all the motivation I need to go. However, to get a welcome like this just stops me in my tracks. You can't beat a feeling like that.

Today, I wanted to see if they could apply their knowledge to reading, writing, and speaking as well as determine their understanding of mathematics. As I had suspected, there was a wide variety of ability levels mainly dependent upon age. I sat on the floor to watch class for a while, but little instruction ensued. As usual, the kids started to come to me one by one with their miniature blackboards with the letters of the alphabet practically chiseled into them. With marbles and the little chalkboards, I started to establish basic addition and subtraction. The kids speak only as much English as I speak Hindi, but the progress was noticeable and fun for all of us. A group of about ten kids gathered around as I continued to determine what they knew and did not know.

I became positive that everyone knew the alphabet as well as basic numbering but came to the conclusion that nobody could write or read and only very few could perform basic addition and subtraction.

Then, I began the most rewarding teaching experience I have ever had. I asked to use the larger chalkboard (about 2ft by 3ft in size) and the teachers thought I wanted to teach the entire class. All 50 students moved eagerly to face me. I couldn't turn back now. There was no way that all of the kids could see the chalkboard on the wall, so I took it off of the wall and walked around with it. We started with "Hi" and worked our way through the words I knew they were familiar with. I would say a word and then we would spell it out together. Then they would write it on their little chalkboards and show me with more enthusiasm than I have ever seen in a classroom. We went through simple words like boy, girl, bye, hello, book, and shoe. Then I would go back, have them identify objects by name, then write the word and show me. Some would get it right, some would be a little off, and others would be totally lost. However, all had enormous smiles on their faces. Toward the end, I had the older, more capable students help explain to the younger students what to do. The students can't understand most of what I say, so class was like a two-hour game of charades.

Today gave me hope that I can go back and really make a difference in their lives. Over the next 4 months, I plan to volunteer at the hospitals in the morning and then school in the afternoon. I wonder what they will be able to do and understand by May if I can build their knowledge just a little bit every day.